It's Canada Day — Thanks, Nellie!

Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby 2
Image by thivierr via Flickr

Today is Canada Day, the day Canadians — a crowd not generally known for their irrational exuberance — are cool with flag-waving, fireworks and whatever other forms of patriotism they can muster. As a Canadian living in the U.S. since 1988, it’s one of the days I do miss my true north strong and free. Having watched The New York Times and Wall Street Journal close their bureaus there, I’ve seen my home and native land fall off the mass-media radar.

Except today, when The New York Times  — maybe thanks to the talented Canadian, Leanne Shapton, who’s working on that page now — devoted its Op-Ed page to a few high-profile Canadians in the U.S. reminiscing about the things they miss. Candy, snow, hockey…nary a mention of universal health care? I miss: Big Turks and Crunchie bars (Canadian candy is the best), summer dusk at 10:00 p.m., loon calls, the green-black gleam of lakewater as you stare down into it from your canoe, your kneecaps aching after hours crouched in its wooden belly, gunwhale-bobbing, female survivors of bear attacks, tree-planting, black flies and portaging (especially in excruciating combination), the Northern granite landscapes captured by the Group of Seven (Canada’s Impressionists), free ice skating rinks in public parks, shinny hockey (Canada’s equivalent of pick-up basketball), the hissing of a blizzard and the soothing muffled silence that follows it when all the snow-covered world is gentled, softened and briefly pristine.

I also miss Nellie and those who know her. Nellie McClung, 1873-1951, was a crusader, reformer and writer who helped win Canadian women the vote and, with four other women (The Famous Five), fought for the 1929 passage of the law finally recognizing Canadian women as “persons”, thereby giving them the ability to be elected to the Senate. Her motto: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize…get things done and let them howl.”

What I miss most about Nellie is her visiblity; she’s on Canada’s $50 bill and a life-size statue of her, with the Famous Five, stands on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. One cold afternoon, I went and thanked her personally, clapping her bronze shoulder, proud and grateful for her guts then and for her daily visible presence now in the place where Canada’s lawmakers do their work. I’m also connected to her, and to history, through one of my dear friends, her grand-daughter Marcia. She’s a deeply generous woman who has welcomed me into her house many times. There I sleep in the back bedroom beside a bookshelf lined with volumes by and about Nellie. What a legacy!

Marcia was one of the first professional women I met as a very young journalist, and she gave me one of my first, best stories: “How’d you like to dance at Lincoln Center with Nureyev?” she asked one day, as she was then doing public relations for the National Ballet of Canada. Dance, for me, was a relative term; I became an extra, a “super” as they’re called in the ballet world, and did indeed perform at the State Theater for eight performances of Sleeping Beauty with Nureyev in the lead role. I even ruined opening night by appearing about 8 bars too soon.

Young women are blessed indeed when we find someone a little older and a lot wiser who sees in us, while we’re still a raw bundle of energy and ambition, a potential we’ve barely yet glimpsed for ourselves.

I’ll be blogging here, most often, about women — although so many things interest me, (design, politics, public policy, history, media), I know I’ll stray. I don’t have kids so won’t be talking about parenting or being a mom or work/life balance in the usual ways. I’m especially intrigued by women outside their domestic sphere, which already receives much attention from talented and insightful writers here and elsewhere — although I’lll weigh in on that occasionally.  Having lived and traveled worldwide, (a woman whose passport practically tugs at her sleeve daily saying “Pick me!”), I’m hungry to hear and tell women’s stories from around the world: athletes, scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, creators, thinkers, cage-rattlers. Please send me your ideas and tell me about the women who inspire you.

One thought on “It's Canada Day — Thanks, Nellie!

  1. francarpentier

    Caitlin makes me wish that I was Canadian! (And, trust me, I never gave that country much stock before.) I cannot wait to read her upcoming posts. Here’s a suggestion for Caitlin Kelly: Ask True/Slant to deputize you as its Foreign Correspondent—and to underwrite your trips. This way, you get to travel the world, and we readers get to experience it through your smart, insightful eyes and intellect.

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